Webster Surname Meaning, History & Origin
Weaving as an occupation has generated a number of surnames: Webb, Webster, Webber, and Weaver. There was a definite south/north divide in the incidence of Webbs and Websters, rather than a male/female divide as the original Anglo-Saxon might suggest (webbestre meaning a female weaver):
- Webbs were mainly to be found in the south,
- Websters in
the north, although stretching as far south as Suffolk, and in
- while Webbers and Weavers were much more geographic specific,
Webbers in the southwest and Weavers in Cheshire.
Weavers were called websters in Yorkshire. The fact that you were
a webster did not necessarily mean that your surname would be
Webster. The 1379 Poll Tax returns for the West Ridings of
Yorkshire show that only 20 percent of websters by trade were Websters
by surname; and many who were called Webster were in fact listed in
- Ancestry of John Webster. Descendants of Governor
John Webster of Connecticut.
- The Noah Webster House Museum.
West Hartford historical society.
- Webster Family History.
Websters from Yorkshire to Australia.
England. The earliest
references were to le Webbesters and le Websters, such as Henry le
Webster who was a bowman at the siege of Calais in 1345.
Websters in Yorkshire
There was and is a cluster of Websters in and around Driffield in the
Yorkshire Wolds. A Webster family were landed gentry at
Lockington near Driffield from the 1330’s. They later
Bolsover in Derbyshire and then to Essex and Sussex. From this
family is believed to be descended John Webster, an early immigrant
The line fizzled out in England in the 19th
century, but not before Sir Geoffrey Webster, the fifth baronet, was
cuckolded in Florence by his young wife Elizabeth during
tour. She, incidentally, is credited with having introduced the
dahlia flower to England. Their son General Henry Webster, who
distinguished himself at the Battle of Waterloo, later killed himself.
Websters were to be found at Austerfield near Doncaster from the
late 1500’s. Robert Webster was a clergyman in Hull in the
1760’s. James Webster, born there in 1767, was the forebear of a
family of entrepreneurs in Russia (a descendant narrowly getting out of
Odessa after the 1917 revolution).
In Yorkshire, the
very much associated with beer and
Yorkshire bitter. This was first brewed by Samuel Webster at
near Halifax in 1838. The brewery stayed family-owned until
There were also Webster outposts in Norfolk, Lancashire, and
- In Norfolk, the name was fairly common in the villages around
Norwich. The earliest reference appears to have been a Wate
delivered the beer at the funeral of Sir John Paston in 1466.
Lancashire, the name started in places near present-day
Liverpool. William le Webster was recorded as a property renter
in Much Woolton in 1384. The name features in the parish records
of Childwall from the 1630’s and of Wavertree later on.
Cumbria, the Websters appear as master masons in Kendal and Cartmell
from the 1700’s. Francis Webster and his son George took this
trade a step further and became one of the premier building designers
and architects of the region. Their work can still be seen in the
Victorian edifices of Kendal. The family story was described in
Taylor’s 2004 book The Websters of
Scotland. The Webster
name may not have been indigenous to Scotland but taken north by
English settlers. An early reference is Malcolm Webster in
Stirling in 1436. The name became common in the northeast of
Scotland, in Angus and Aberdeenshire.
Alexander Webster was the
master of a musical school in Melrose in the 1670’s. In
farming family at Mains of Inveramsay and another at Old Deer can trace
their records back to the 1700’s (Jack Webster, who grew up in
the village of Maud, is a local historian of the area). Francis
Webster set up his weaving business in Arbroath. He was a town
benefactor and built his Memorial Hall there in 1870 (now renovated as
the Webster Memorial Theater).
America. There were a
number of Webster arrivals into Massachusetts in the 1630’s; John
Webster from Leicestershire in 1634; another John Webster in the same
year (who founded Ipswich after his home town in Suffolk);
and Thomas Webster from Lincolnshire in 1638. A later arrival was
James Webster from Scotland whose descendants became Methodists in
Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
There were many notables among the early Websters. The first John
Webster was an early Governor of the colony of Connecticut. From
this family came Noah Webster, the famous
dictionary writer who was
principally responsible from the Americanness of the American
language. From Thomas Webster came Daniel Webster, a formidable
orator in the US Senate during the 1830’s.
Grant Webster was a successful Boston merchant in the 1750’s. His
daughter Hannah Webster (later Hannah Foster) wrote a spicy potboiler The Coquette which was hugely
popular in the early 1800’s. A descendant John W. Webster, a
Harvard professor, became famous in 1850 for his conviction and hanging
for the murder of George Parkman in a trial that shook Boston society
to its core.
Some Websters ventured elsewhere. Ephraim
Webster was an early settler in Syracuse in upstate New York
was still Indian territory. These Websters are still present
In 1856 Francis Webster from Norfolk farming stock in England set off
via Sydney and San Francisco for Salt Lake valley and the Mormon colony
there. He settled in Cedar City and later served as mayor of the
town. Generations of Websters,
written in 1960, recounts his family history.
Canada. In 1760,
Abraham Webster and his wife Margaret left their home in Connecticut
with other pioneers for Cornwallis in Nova Scotia. His nephew
Isaac had the benefit of a higher education and studied medicine in
Edinburgh. There followed six generations of Webster doctors in
Kentville Nova Scotia, starting with Isaac himself in 1791.
Another long-standing family has been the Websters of West Flamborough
Dundas in Ontario). Joseph Webster had been a British army
in 1795 when his regiment mutinied. No blame was apparently
attached to him as he was subsequently granted land in Canada. He
arrived there in 1817. Although he himself became homesick and
subsequently returned, his family remained and are still to be found
A number of Websters came to Canada from Ireland. Three brothers
– John, Nathaniel, and Robert – settled in the Grenville area of Quebec
in 1812. Daniel
Webster and his family arrived in Streetville, Ontario from
Tipperary in 1837. Much later, in 1907, came Robert Webster and
his family from county Wexford. Robert made his home in Toronto,
worked on the railroad, and lived onto 1934.
Australia and New Zealand.
Two Websters who survived the harsh convict regime of early Australia
were John and Jane Webster. John died in 1842, Jane lived onto
1868. They raised a large family in Golbourn and they have many
today in New South Wales.
The first European settler on the Coromandel peninsula in North Island,
New Zealand was an American by the name of Bill Webster. In the
1830’s he deserted from an American whaling ship and set up a trading
post on Whanganui island. He befriended the local Maoris and
married the chief’s daughter. However, he did not stay and
departed back to America in 1845.
Two Webster brothers from Montrose in Scotland did stay. William
and John Webster arrived in 1841 and settled in the Hokianga, North
Island. William was the first settler in the Wairere Boulder
valley, erecting New Zealand’s first water-driven timber mill and
making its first pipe organ from native woods. He too married the
daughter of a local chieftain. John had a more wandering early
life. He later published his memoirs, Reminiscences of An Old Settler in
Australia and New Zealand, in 1908.
Select Webster Miscellany
A Webster Line from Yorkshire. The Websters were settled in Yorkshire at a very early period. According to Burke and Playfair, they held the manor of Lockington in Yorkshire at the time of Richard II.
The apparent founder of the family was John Webster of Bolsover, near
Chesterfield in Derbyshire. In 1434 he returned into Chancery
among the gentlemen of that county who made oath, on behalf of
themselves and their retainers, for the observance of the king’s
From him is descended John Webster who, upon the
dissolution of the monasteries, received from Henry VIII large grants
in Cambridgeshire, Essex, and Huntingdonshire.
Lady Webster and Lord Holland. Born in 1771, Lady Webster had been married at the age of fifteen to the uncongenial Sussex baronet, Sir Geoffrey Webster.
Eight years later, they were savoring the lavish life of the
aristocracy living abroad.
Enter Lord Holland, aged 20, and his wife. The
young couple was making the European grand tour and, while in Italy,
stopped in to see the Websters. Before you could say cocoxchitl (which the dahlia was
called by the Aztecs), Lady Webster and Lord Holland began a torrid
affair, ran off together and, in 1796, produced a son.
A year later, Lord Webster divorced his
wife and Lord Holland and the former Lady Webster married.
Years later, the now Lady Holland sent seeds of dahlia back to Britain
and thus has been credited with jump-starting the dahlia’s introduction
into English gardens.
Ephraim Webster Among the Indians in Syracuse. In 1786 a wiry young man five feet four inches tall came to Onondaga,
the only white man among the restless Indians of that day. He
established a one-man settlement that eventually led to the founding of
the city of Syracuse. His name was Ephraim Webster.
Webster is said to have married an Indian maiden when he
first came to please his Indian allies. When white settlers
arrived, however, he longed for a white woman to be his wife and he
later married the beautiful Hannah Danks.
His fame among the Indians became so well established
that he was often sent on dangerous and confidential missions by the
Government. Such an assignment became his lot during the fighting
between British, Indian, and American troops between 1788 and
1794. He would loll around the British fort at Oswego in the
disguise of an Onandaga Indian. No amount of liquor ladled out by
the suspicious officers could get a word from him except in the native
language of the Onandagas.
Ephraim Webster was Syracuse’s trader and merchant who
died as he had lived, in the year 1824, among the Indians at Tonawanda.
Noah Webster and the American Language. As a teacher, Noah Webster had come to dislike American elementary
schools. They could be overcrowded, poorly staffed with untrained
teachers, and poorly equipped with no desks and unsatisfactory
textbooks that came from England. Webster thought that Americans
should learn from American books. So he began writing a three
volume compendium, A Grammatical
Institute of the English Language.
His goal was to provide a uniquely American approach to
training children. His most important improvement, he claimed,
was to rescue “our native tongue” from “the clamor of pedantry” that
surrounded English grammar and pronunciation. He complained that
the English language had been corrupted by the British aristocracy,
which set its own standard for proper spelling and pronunciation.
Webster also rejected the notion that the study of Greek and Latin must
precede the study of English grammar.
The appropriate standard for the American language, he
argued, was “the same republican principles as American civil and
ecclesiastical institutions,” which meant that people at large must
control the language. Popular sovereignty in government must be
accompanied by popular usage in language. “The truth in general
custom is the rule of speaking – and every deviation from this must be
For the next one hundred years, Webster’s book taught
children how to read, spell, and pronounce words. It was the most
popular American book of its time. By 1861, it was selling a
million copies a year.
Websters from Ireland to Canada. The first Websters were brought to Ireland from Wigan in Lancashire to construct coal mines in Tipperary. They were very poor
and lived in two room mud homes. They still wore the wooden clogs
brought from Wigan. It is not known whether one or more Websters
came from England. But we do know that Thomas Webster of Kilcooly
parish in Tipperary was one of them.
Daniel Webster, born in 1798, was a younger son of Thomas
Webster. He married Susan Pearson in Tipperary in 1829. He
did his apprenticeship as a cooper (barrel maker) and had this trade to
fall back on in his later years. It must have been his wish to be
a farmer that – as there were few opportunities in Ireland – he
departed for Canada along with several of his neighbors.
His older sister, Mary Louise Webster, had married
William Cantelon and their family went to Canada in 1831.
Daniel, Susan, and their three small children left
Ireland in 1837. Four of Daniel’s brothers and at least one
sister came to Canada at that time. Crossing the Atlantic took at
least six weeks with a further journey up the St. Lawrence river and
Lake Ontario to Hamilton, Ontario. From Hamilton they went to the
flourishing town of Streetsville. Daniel died in Lucknow, Ontario
The next generation of Websters from this family also
headed for Canada, this time in 1849 and 1854 after the potato
famine. Henry Webster returned in 1851 with stories of life in
the backwoods. He was conscripted for the Crimean War and thus
never returned to Canada.
Escape From Russia. John Webster went over to Russia very young to join the business
of his uncle, a co-founder of Kovalenko & Webster who were tug and
barge owners and coal merchants operating from the Black Sea ports of
Kherson and Odessa. As the latter’s sons all died in fever, John
in due course became a manager.
He had frequently proposed to his cousin Marie, as had a Russian that
her father wanted her to marry. However, she did not want to marry
Kovalenko and she finally accepted John’s proposal. They
were married in Odessa in 1914. Kovalenko was apparently
distraught. During the Revolution, as a capitalist, he had to
sweep the streets and was said to have died with her name on his lips.
In 1917, Imperial Army officers, trying to escape from Odessa, were
caught by the revolutionaries. They were tied together in groups,
heavy stones were fastened to their feet, and they were then taken to
sea and thrown overboard. Later their dead bodies could be seen
floating upright, moving with the current. For better class
Russians at the time, it was essential to wear old clothes and no fur
coat. A white collar or hands would lead to instant arrest.
By 1918 the Germans were advancing. So it was essential for John
and Marie to leave Odessa via Siberia, as this was the only route open
to England. It will be seen from the log that it took two months
to travel from Odessa to London. They had to leave most of their
belongings and assets behind, including presumably the Fairfax sword
and the India and Gold Rush letters from his father.
Samuel Webster’s Brewery. Samuel Webster opened his brewery in Ovenden Wood in 1838. The
plant was located close to a natural spring which initially provided
the water needs of the brewery. The brewery, in common with many
others, owned significant numbers of tied public houses spread
throughout West Yorkshire.
One of their advertising slogans was “drives out the
Northern thirst.” Their brands, Green Label and Yorkshire Bitter,
were famous all over the country. These brands were distributed
in bottles and cans, although the traditional brewing at Webster had
been cask ales. Two of the company’s dray horses were used for
publicity until well into the 1990’s and two talking Webster dray
horses – Uncle and Nephew – appeared in a series of TV ads for the
In 1971 the company was taken over by Watney Mann.
Select Webster Names
Webster was an English Jacobean playwright, a late contemporary
Alexander Webster carried out
the first census of Scotland in 1755.
Noah Webster published his American Spelling Book in 1786 and
his first Dictionary of the English
Language in 1806 (updated in 1828).
Daniel Webster from New
Hampshire was a leading American senator in the years prior to the
Ben Webster was one of the
great tenor saxophone players of the swing era.
Select Webster Numbers Today
- 37,000 in the UK (most numerous
- 25,000 in America (most
in New York).
- 26,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)
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